Court Administration Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a court administration degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctoral degree and potential careers.
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Studying Court Administration: Degrees at a Glance

In a master's program in court or public administration or criminal justice, you could learn how to help judges and government officials improve the effectiveness and efficiency of justice systems. Doctoral programs specifically in court administration are rare, but you may be able to study through a public administration, criminal justice or political science programs while preparing for an academic, research or consulting career.

Your opportunities with a master's degree could depend on your specific background and preparation. For example, you could serve on an international court or pursue a government position in the federal, state or local system covering civil, criminal, tax, armed forces and trade matters. You might also consider applying your graduate-level studies to an academic career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment for all postsecondary teachers would increase by 17% from 2010 to 2020.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in a supervisory or management position in court administration Individuals interested in academic, research or consulting careers
Common Career Paths and Salary (with approximate annual salary) - Court administrator - ($31,000-$101,000)*
- Public relations manager - ($92,000)**
- Finance manager - ($100,000)**
- Information system manager ($102,000)**
- Postsecondary criminal justice teacher - ($67,000)**
- Professor of public administration ($90,000 - advanced experience may be required for this salary)***
- Professor of legal studies ($134,000 - advanced experience may be required for this salary)***
- Court administration consultant (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-6 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 30-40 credits
- Internship
- Thesis
- Approximately 60-80 post-baccalaureate credit hours
- Comprehensive and oral examinations
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree
- LSAT, GRE or GMAT scores
- Bachelor's or master's degree or enrolled in concurrent degree program
Online Availability Online degrees are uncommon but available Rare to non-existent

Sources: *Payscale.com (2012 total pay range), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 annual mean wage, federal state and local government occupations), ***The Chronicle of Higher Education (2010-2011 average faculty salaries).

Master's Degree Programs Covering Court Administration

Law, public administration and criminal justice schools typically offer the graduate programs that train students to manage staff, as well as use technologies and procedures that improve system performance. In these programs, you would learn about processes pertaining to law, society and court systems and related empirical research techniques. Your curriculum might address domestic or international court systems, along with fiscal administration, community relations, human resource, case flow, space and jury management skills.

Full-time programs might take 1-2 years, while some schools may offer 3-4 year joint programs that also lead to law degrees. These programs may also require an externship. Graduates typically work as court, law office or public sector administrators, clerks of the court or budget analysts and directors.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • This degree could lead to a rewarding career combining an interest in the justice system and management aptitude
  • Salary potential for some court administration careers is higher than the U.S. average ($45,000) for all occupations*
  • Related job opportunities may be available in any jurisdiction

Cons

  • Your graduate studies may also be applicable to the legal sector
  • You may have a difficult time finding job opportunities in areas with few court systems, law firms or government agencies
  • Online master's degree programs in this field are limited

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Exact requirements could vary depending on your program, but they might include core courses in the American or international justice system, research methods and budgeting, financial and public personnel administration. Your program might include an externship or a capstone project.

Courses like these might be included in a program covering court administration:

  • Court strategic planning
  • Fiscal management
  • Space, facilities and security
  • Communications and media relations
  • Specialty courts
  • Case flow and load management
  • World judicial systems

Online Courses

Completely online full-time and part-time public or legal administration programs are available; however, they are generally uncommon. You will meet the same requirements as on-campus students, except you'll access study materials and submit your work electronically. Externships may be arranged. Professional associations like the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) or National Center for State Courts' Institute for Court Management (ICM) can also provide online studies through specialized, non-credit online training.

Standing Out with a Master's Degree Program

You might attend a school that provides technical assistance and training to court systems, or that has developed programs in conjunction with court systems or professional associations. You may be able to participate in special projects or research programs that improve your court performance.

You could explore career development resources or make progress toward certifications by organizations like ASPA, ICM, the National Association for Court Management or the International Association for Court Administration. A positive externship experience could also lead to a recommendation or other networking opportunities.

PhD Programs Covering Court Administration

You might find appropriate electives and dissertation support for this topic in a public administration, criminal justice, political science, law or related doctoral program. Doctoral students may be preparing for postsecondary research and teaching careers. You might have to choose a minor or major, and if you're specializing in international court systems, a foreign language may be required.

Your graduation requirements for a doctoral degree program in these areas could include elective coursework or independent study in your research area, a comprehensive and oral examination or a dissertation. You might take courses in multiple departments, as well as have teaching or research assistant responsibilities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD could lead to academic, consulting or policy analyst positions
  • Related degree programs could support study of domestic or international court systems
  • Programs offer the opportunity for individualized study combining multiple disciplines

Cons

  • The rigors of a PhD program may limit opportunities for outside employment
  • An academic position requiring your specific expertise may not be immediately available when you graduate
  • You may need to be flexible about relocation to get a position

Courses and Requirements

Requirements could vary depending on your discipline. You would typically take quantitative and research design courses early in your program. Electives may be chosen that relate to your dissertation topics.

You might take courses like these in a PhD program covering court administration:

  • Contemporary issues in court administration
  • Judicial administration
  • Ethics, integrity and accountability
  • Administrative law and regulation
  • Law, courts and public policy
  • Law, politics and the media
  • Judicial decision-making

Online Class Options

It could be difficult to find a PhD program emphasizing court administration that is entirely online, but you may be able to attend a school that offers graduate courses online or that accepts transferred credits earned online elsewhere. Professors may be willing to supervise an independent study for credit on a topic of mutual interest. As with many campus-based PhD programs, your studies may allow you to spend time completing research or other projects off-campus.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Depending on your school and its location, special archives and libraries as well as access to professionals in the field may be available. Schools may offer special programs or centers addressing related research topics, as well as future faculty development programs.

Future academics are often encouraged to make conference presentations and publish their work in journals sponsored by schools and professional and state bar associations. Awards, scholarships and contributions to court administration-related funded projects might support your candidacy for an academic position.

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